The Louisville Cardinals and coach Bobby Petrino begin life without superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2018 and in order to withstand that enormous loss they may take a long look at graduate transfers to bolster their roster this offseason.
Petrino and the Cardinals have won 34 games since he returned to Louisville and they’re welcoming in a strong recruiting class that finished No. 29 in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings. However, Louisville also lost a lot and they could use some added depth and experience heading into 2018.
The best way to accomplish that beyond National Signing Day is to take advantage of the graduate transfer rules and target players who have established themselves at other programs but are now looking for a new opportunity for whatever reason.
This year, the graduate transfer market is already loaded with solid options. And, while there might not be any program-changing players available at the moment, Louisville would be wise to take a long look at these three kids in particular.
Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park
Jawon Pass absolutely looks like the real deal and has been anointed by Jackson himself as the successor to the throne. However, he’s still only thrown 33 career passes and the Cardinals don’t have a single career passing attempt on the roster behind him.
That puts Louisville in a precarious position for a number of reasons and Jacob Park would actually provide both the insurance and competition they need. Park can push Pass for the starting role (hopefully helping get the absolute most out of Pass, who is more talented) and brings 387 career pass attempts to the party as a potential backup.
With those attempts, Park completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,972 yards and 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. So, if called upon, you can feel comfortable that he’ll still give Louisville a chance to win football games.
California running back Tre Watson
Jackson has been the primary ballcarrier at Louisville for each of the past two seasons, so his departure (along with second-leading rusher Reggie Bonnafon’s departure) doesn’t just create a vacancy at quarterback it creates a serious need at running back and Tre Watson would be an excellent addition.
Watson did a little bit of everything at Cal and was poised to put up big numbers in 2017 before an injury cut his season short after two games. Now, he’s on the road to recovery and he’s announced that he’ll graduate and be immediately eligible to play.
At Cal, Watson ran for 1,380 yards and 8 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. As a receiver, he also added 37 catches for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns, so he provides some nice versatility and could be a huge score for the Louisville offense provided that he’s healthy.
Illinois safety Patrick Nelson
After starting for two years at Illinois and with two years of remaining eligibility, Patrick Nelson is going to be one of the more highly-coveted graduate transfers available in this cycle. But he’d be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity for immediate playing time at a Power Five school than at Louisville.
The Cardinals lost their two top safeties in Chucky Williams and Zykiesis Cannon, so Nelson has a pretty clear path to playing time after 140 tackles and 5 tackles for loss with the Illini. The big (6-foot-2, 210-pound), physical box safety could give Louisville some punch in the secondary that they desperately need.
He’ll graduate in the spring, according to Jeremy Werner of Illini Inquirer, and should be ready to enroll in the summer and could become an immediate fixture for Louisville.